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I should start this piece off by saying that I’ve only ever seen the pop culture-heavy ADV English dubs of 20-episode anime, Ghost Stories (Gakk? no Kaidan). The series aired here in the U.S. on Cartoon Network and had a DVD run from the now divided and conquered publisher, so the only version I’ve ever seen is the one that its creators didn’t necessarily intend to be seen.
Still, in spite of some humor that was stale as soon as it hit the recording booth (did you know Paris Hilton has a bad reputation), this animated series from Bleach and Emma – A Victorian Romance Studio Pierrot still has a few chills and scares that peek through the hokey humor.
In an abandoned building next to their school, a group of elementary-aged kids discover a host of spooks, specters, and vengeful monsters springing forth and invading their school grounds and the surrounding area in their small town. The kids take it upon themselves to turn back some of these Western and Eastern-style ghosts and keep their friends and families safe.
Or at least, that’s what the overall story seems to be based on what I now understand was a partially ad-libbed dub under ADV based on scripts from Steve Forster. Now, they’re a bunch of sassy kids who keep bumbling into deadly mysteries Scooby-Doo style, only to save their own skin at the last minute thanks to some judicious research or happenstance. I know I’m slagging off the dub having not seen the original (which might not even measure up to this version), but pop culture centric humor has such a short shelf life and making the very specific jokes peppered throughout the series limits its sell-by date for potential new fans.
Ghost Stories’ heroes are five school children and their demon-possessed cat Amanojaku who grudgingly lends them guidance against some of the ghosts they encounter. Their leader is Satsuki, who recently moved to the small town in which the series is set with her father and younger brother, Keiichirou. Their new town was the birthplace of their deceased mother, who was actually responsible for sealing away the series’ many ghosts who are subsequently being unleashed thanks to new construction and development in the area.
Satsuki is guided, in part, by her late mother’s diary as well as through visions of her mother as a younger girl (and occasionally, almost incidentally by Amanojaku.
It’s the ghosts that are worth watching, even despite the ADV edits. Peppered with clever variations on your typical wandering spirit hauntings and Japanese superstition, Ghost Stories has the edge of being unexpected and creepier for the surprise with the occasional gruesome flourish (in spite of the age of group of its leads, some of the horror is pretty ultra-violent). Dead long-distance runners’ spirits hack off victims’ legs while mirror spirits trap others on the wrong side of the glass, and cursed dolls able to possess other toys. Watching Ghost Stories is like crash course in Japanese folklore.
Unfortunately, the only version of the series available is the ADV dub, released on DVD back in 2005. While Aniplex put together a dub closer to the Japanese scripts, but that version was never made available in this region. Still, the dub’s not so bad that it overshadows the more interested elements of the series.